Starts & Stops

City hopes hybrid taxis gain steam

Email|Print| Text size + By Noah Bierman and Matthew P. Collette
Globe Correspondent / March 9, 2008

Hybrid taxicabs hit the road 18 months ago with a giant green splash, but they have yet to catch on among Boston's Crown Victoria-loving cabbies.

The drivers who use the green-striped Toyota Camrys say they are crowd-pleasers, gas-savers, and environment-helpers.

"It gives you a little bit of pride," said John Gerakis, a driver with the Boston Cab Association, which purchased one of the hybrids in January. "The customers are absolutely gaga over it."

Thirty-two of Boston's 1,825 cabs are hybrids. City officials, promoting the cars as part of a broader green vision, were hoping at least 100 would be on the road by now.

"It's a momentum issue," said Mark Cohen, director of Boston's licensing division. "Now, we seem to be picking up steam, a little bit."

So why hasn't the concept been picked up faster? The hybrids cost nearly $30,000 after they're customized to meet taxi regulations. Most cabbies drive Ford Crown Victorias from police department surpluses that usually cost less than $10,000.

The Crown Victorias guzzle gas faster than Homer Simpson gobbles donuts, getting about 13 miles per gallon. But they're easy to fix and can go more than 300,000 miles, said John Ford, owner of City Cab and Top Cab. Ford said cabbies, who drive 60,000 miles a year, are still curious about how Camrys will hold up in crashes and rough weather. Hybrids also need new batteries after 100,000 miles.

The city and Logan International Airport are trying to make the economics work, with a perk that spares hybrid cabdrivers from a line at the airport taxi pool twice per shift. That time-savings, sometimes more than an hour, can be worth a few $30 trips per day. Cohen said Boston chose to offer perks, rather than mandates like the city of New York has, but still wants results.

Companies that own hybrid cabs and lease them to drivers get a higher share of the drivers' profits, but that rate may need to be renegotiated if the city wants those companies to buy more hybrids.

Even Crown Victoria holdouts acknowledge that hybrid cars are cleaner and more fuel-efficient. If the price of gas keeps ticking higher, they may not need any more convincing.

"It's the new technology," said Gerakis. "Once you're in it, you realize the Crown Victoria is sort of a dinosaur."

Bruin gives T an assist
Ever since he was traded to the Boston Bruins two years ago, Andrew Ference has been a fan of the T. But that probably isn't a surprise to anyone who commutes in Boston: every 30 minutes, the MBTA plays a recording of the Bruins defenseman lauding the merits of public transportation.

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority approached Ference about the campaign in the fall, when T officials came upon an interview in which the self-proclaimed environmentalist lauded the transportation service.

Ference doesn't own a car and usually walks or rides his bike to and from the TD BankNorth Garden (he lives near the Aquarium). When he travels farther than that, to take his daughter to daycare near Chinatown or go shopping with his wife on Newbury Street or in Harvard Square, he takes the T. For trips outside the city, Ference uses Zipcar.

Other commuters often don't recognize him: at 5 foot 11, Ference doesn't stand out the way a Celtics player does, and he doesn't turn heads the way former Red Sox southpaw Bill "Spaceman" Lee used to when he rode the T. But every regular commuter should know Ference's voice.

"First time I heard it, it was pretty cool, but after that I was like, 'All right, that's enough,' " Ference joked.

He recorded the public service announcement in the fall, and T officials plan to run it until the end of hockey season.

Teammates and Bruins employees have shared stories about Ference's voiceover.

"One of the media guys, his buddy said there was this guy who was cracked out and a little crazy and he was doing a perfect impersonation of my voice," Ference said.

"It's pretty funny, I hope I see him someday."

Just as commuters may be getting sick of hearing the same message after day, Ference, too, says he's getting tired of what he calls "my annoying voice."

"They should get some other people, mix it up a little."

Rail service more punctual

The private company that runs commuter rail service for the MBTA, the Massachusetts Bay Railroad Company, said 80 percent of its trains were less than five minutes late last month, 3 percentage points better than January's numbers.

Best southern line: Greenbush, 95 percent on time.

Best northern line: Rockport, 85 percent on time.

Worst southern line: Franklin via Fairmount, 46 percent on time.

Worst northern line: Haverhill via Wildcat, 78 percent on time.

Can't get there . . .
Two or three lanes of Interstate 93 south approaching and through downtown will be closed from 11:30 p.m. to 5 a.m. tomorrow through Friday.

I-93 south in the vicinity of South Station will be closed from 11:30 p.m. tomorrow to 5 a.m. Tuesday.

The Haymarket onramp to I-93 south and the Callahan Tunnel will be closed from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. today through Thursday.

I-93 south Exit 23, to Purchase Street, will be closed from 11:30 p.m. to 5 a.m. Tuesday through Thursday.

I-93 south Exit 20B, to Interstate 90 west (Massachusetts Turnpike) will be closed from 11:30 p.m. to 5 a.m. Tuesday through Thursday.

At least two lanes of I-93 north through downtown and Charlestown will be closed from 11:30 p.m. to 5 a.m. today through Friday.

The underpass from Storrow Drive eastbound to I-93 north and the Tobin Bridge will be closed from 1 to 5 a.m. Thursday and Friday.

The Sumner Tunnel onramp to I-93 north will be closed from 11:59 p.m. to 5 a.m. today through Friday.

The Haymarket onramp to I-93 north will close 11: 30 p.m. to 5 a.m. today through Friday.

A section of I-90 west at Exit 25 in South Boston will be closed from 11:30 p.m. to 5 a.m. Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday.

The Albany Street onramp to I-90 west will be closed from 11:30 p.m. to 5 a.m. tomorrow through Thursday.

The Arlington Street onramp to I-90 west will be closed from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. today through Thursday, and 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Friday.

The Congress Street onramp to I-93 south and I-90 west will be closed from 11:30 p.m. tomorrow until 5 a.m. Tuesday.

The Sumner Tunnel onramp to Government Center and Haymarket will be closed from 11:59 p.m. to 5 a.m. tomorrow through Friday.

The ramp from Harborside Drive to I-90 west/Ted Williams Tunnel will be closed from 11:59 p.m. to 5 a.m. Tuesday and Wednesday.

Correction: Because of a reporting error, an item in Sunday's Starts & Stops column made an incorrect statement about the expected life of hybrid batteries in Toyota Camry taxicabs. Toyota says the batteries are expected to last throughout the life of the vehicle.

more stories like this

  • Email
  • Email
  • Print
  • Print
  • Single page
  • Single page
  • Reprints
  • Reprints
  • Share
  • Share
  • Comment
  • Comment
  • Share on DiggShare on Digg
  • Tag with Save this article
  • powered by
Your Name Your e-mail address (for return address purposes) E-mail address of recipients (separate multiple addresses with commas) Name and both e-mail fields are required.
Message (optional)
Disclaimer: does not share this information or keep it permanently, as it is for the sole purpose of sending this one time e-mail.